Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons, right, knocks the ball away from Georgia Tech guard Dawnn Maye (1) during Sunday’s game in Knoxville. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
KNOXVILLE — Before every game, Tennessee assistant women’s basketball coach Dean Lockwood tells Bashaara Graves and Isabelle Harrison how many rebounds he wants from each of them.
Lockwood needs to start setting his sights higher.
Graves and Harrison each pulled down 18 rebounds — career highs for both — and the fourth-ranked Lady Vols remained unbeaten Sunday with an 87-76 victory over Georgia Tech.
“We definitely exceeded what he told us (he wanted) before the game,” Harrison said.
Tennessee outrebounded Georgia Tech 65-38 and matched its sixth-highest single-game rebound total in school history. UT hadn’t collected as many as 65 rebounds in a game since Nov. 23, 1996. The Lady Vols had 33 offensive rebounds, their highest single-game total since Jan. 10, 2000.
Although Tennessee doesn’t have official school records for offensive rebounds, Graves’ 14 were the most by any Lady Vol in a single game since at least 2000.
“When you have two kids with 18 rebounds apiece, that’s the difference in the game,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “It’s second-chance points. That’s just heart and desire to go in and rebound.”
Graves also had 23 points and five assists to match career highs in both categories. Graves, the 2012-13 Southeastern Conference newcomer of the year, had been averaging just 7.7 points and 6.3 rebounds through the first three games of her sophomore season.
Before the game, Graves said she told herself to play more aggressively. She responded with arguably the best performance of her career.
“There wasn’t too much more Bashaara could do. ... At one time I thought she was guarding just about everybody on the floor, including the point guard,” Warlick said.
Mercedes Russell scored 14 points, Meighan Simmons added 13 and Harrison had 10 for Tennessee, which led by as many as 18 points in the first half before Georgia Tech used outside shooting to get within four midway through the second half.
Kaela Davis scored 28 points to lead the Yellow Jackets (2-1), though she had only three points in the last 10:53 of the game while being guarded closely by UT’s Cierra Burdick. Aaliyah Whiteside added 16 points. Sydney Wallace and Tyaunna Marshall scored 13 each, though Marshall shot just 6-of-25.
Davis, the daughter of former NBA forward Antonio Davis, was one of the nation’s most heralded prospects in her high school class. The 6-foot-2 freshman guard was verbally committed to Tennessee for nearly two years before eventually signing with Georgia Tech.
She’s averaging 21.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game thus far in her freshman year.
“The day Kaela Davis signed with Georgia Tech, it changed our program forever,” Yellow Jackets coach MaChelle Joseph said. “She elevated our program before she ever stepped foot on campus.”
Davis’ twin brother, A.J. Davis, is a freshman forward for the Tennessee men’s basketball team. He was in the stands Sunday wearing Tennessee gear and cheering for his sister.
“I definitely noticed,” Kaela Davis said. “He’s a big guy. He stands out.”
Tennessee’s fast start Sunday ended the Lady Vols’ early-season trend of relying on second-half surges. UT had been outscoring teams 134-84 in the second half through its first three games of the season. In the first half of those games, opponents were playing Tennessee to a 94-94 deadlock.
After trailing 41-23, Georgia Tech ended the first half on a 12-3 run and continued its comeback early in the second half by relying on its perimeter attack.
Georgia Tech shot 8-for-21 from 3-point range.
Tennessee was just 2-of-13.
“We started out strong, and then we got comfortable,” Warlick said.
Tennessee didn’t put the game out of reach until late in the second half. Ariel Massengale sank back-to-back jumpers to spark a 12-0 spurt as Georgia Tech finally started to cool off from long range.
In the end, the Yellow Jackets’ edge from long range couldn’t compensate for the Lady Vols’ decisive advantage on the boards.
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